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Aaron Dickinson Sachs

Tonight for the first time you will hear what it’s like to be raised by gay parents, from the only people who really know, their children…. Today, open and honest, the children speak.”

What a set up Babwa gives you! On the one hand, she acknowledges the power in the voices of people with LGBTQ parents, like you. Then on the other, she puts forward this assertion that you will speak openly and honestly. Not only does this deny the pressure that is put on you, which you discussed above, but it also leaves out any influence that she or her editing staff will have on shaping what you’ve said. And as you write above, they actually edited out some of your own words, altering the meaning of what you so openly and honestly said about your identity as it relates to your parents’.

Thanks for providing us a good example of how, even when we get outside of the fictional representations of people with LGBTQ parents—which as Nick and I have both said seem to be rigorously controlled to be one dimensionally positive most of the time—and into what seems like self-representation of people with LGBTQ parents in the media, we have a similar reduction in the kinds of images that the media are willing to support.

pictures of cast as family eating outside at barbeque
Nick Hetherington

Yes, yes, spot on Aaron. I grappled long and hard with my views towards TKAA. First of, I wanted to enjoy it for the impact I knew it may have, by increasing the visibility of a COLAGE themed experience into the living rooms of millions, many who would encounter this for the first time. I wanted to enjoy it for the performances of each cast member, I thought they were wonderful, especially Annette Bening. I love Lisa Cholodenko as a filmmaker. I’m a fan of several of her movies like Laurel Canyon and High Art. I even thought the direction in TKAA had a sublime tone, mixing smart humor with interpersonal rivalries. So, what was it that bothered me so much? Was it the story? Was I bothered by Julianne Moore’s character having an affair with the donor father? Did that seem plausible? Well, yes, she needed comfort and was angry enough with her wife that sure, she might venture to temporarily soothe her egoistic needs. OK, I thought, I can deal with that, it’s odd, but fine. So, hmm, what can it be? I have my own desires based on my family experiences that I never see characterized, so that’s part of it, but that would be shortsighted and attaching that to another project would be fruitless and irrelevant. I knew that the title bothered me. I’ve expressed for the past few years in radio and newspaper interviews that we have come so far with the battle for LGBTQ rights, that while we are not fully equally, and the battle continues for millions in many American States, that we should not be looking now for approval through assimilation or having to prove that we have the ability to create perfect families. While that may be true for some families, it shouldn’t have to be the reason why we should be given the same rights. The shape of the conversation must move forward from “I’m good like you” or “I’m capable like you,” or “Don’t worry the kids will be alright” to “We’ll probably make terrible mistakes and create some monsters, just like you too.” So, while Cholodenko’s film is a vital part of the narrative, it wasn’t until reading Aaron’s curator notes here, that I fully understood why I never felt fully settled or satisfied with the film. This film has much less to do about the kids than the title suggests. It’s as if the film is saying, look we make the same mistakes just like you, we can cheat on our spouses, but we did such a great job with our kids, that they’ll handle it. The kids are all right, because we’ve normalized them within the parameters we all recognize and understand. Parameters that do not extend beyond our own comfort zone.

My Two Dads
kellen kaiser

I was also disappointed that the series ended with the dissolution of their family unit. Thanks for giving me the term “gay family window programming,”.that was totally what it was, intended or not.Now I want to come up with other examples of that.

Aaron Dickinson Sachs

Nick, thanks so much for this post. I couldn’t agree with you more in terms of both this show and the your reaction to other media representations of queer families. It’s funny because when I first saw the show earlier this year, I totally missed the implications of Monica’s lesbian identity for her kids (i.e. that they would be queerspawn or COLAGErs). And I would assume that as a queerspawn/COLAGEr with a PhD in Media Studies, I might be inclined to pick up on that. But Shameless so obviously grapples (albeit comedically) with the ramifications of poverty/class and parental alcoholism that other issues are overshadowed. What that leaves us is a family defined by things other than their queerness, something that’s nearly impossible to find in other shows with queer families. Monica wields her lesbianism like a cudgel, but because it’s so obviously the tool of a manipulative and petty woman, she is irreducible to her sexuality.

I agree that we need a show with depictions of complex family dynamics that include the bad along with the good. Interestingly, like most good British shows, Shameless has been appropriated in the US and made into a show about a Chicago housing project. What I’m curious to see is whether or not they stay faithful to the story line of the original show and include a lesbian mother. My gut tells me no, and if I’m right, we’ll learn an important lesson about where the US is with representations of queer families from that absence.

Evan Johnson

Emily, Nice post, sorry I’m late to the convo—I got distracted by summer school. I’ve actually never watched the show, but as a Minnesotan I am now interested. I acknowledge the Scandinavian influence on her accent, but how about the German influence in both MN and on this specific board game titled “Guggenspitzer.” We shan’t erase the Germanic influence and all their delicious cuisine. Also, I’m curious if a writer or producer on the show grew up in MN or went to St. Olaf College (which, maybe it should be said, is the name of a college in the real-life town of St. Cloud, whereas in the show it is the town’s name. Minor stuff of minor interest. Oh, well.) Another show of that era, “Coach,” was set in MN and possibly the most famous set in MN was “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Recently, Jason Segel’s character on “How I met your mother” is from MN. I wonder if MN is portrayed as an exotic local in any of those shows? Also, dare I say that only another true northerner would write about the magic of a “gift-basket … with some hickory smoked cheese and spicy beef sticks.” Perfect.

My Two Dads
Aaron Dickinson Sachs

Thanks for starting off the week kellen, and for choosing such a great text to discuss.

Growing up with lesbian moms I had much the same relationship to “My Two Dads.” I’m pretty sure that I knew that they were not romantically a couple in the way my own moms were, but that didn’t stop me from seeing Michael, Joey, and Nicole as a queer family. At a point when there were no depictions of families like mine, “My Two Dads” was enough to help me feel less alone in the world of media (kind of like when I’d stumble onto the very rare reference to Hanuka in the sea of Christmas specials). In this sense, I see “My Two Dads” as a good example of what might be called “gay family window programming,” following the example of Sender (1999) on “gay window advertising,” where the heteronormative assumptions of most audiences mask the queer subtext embedded in an ad or program for viewers “in the know.” Now I have no idea whether My Two Dads was meant to have a gay subtext either, though it probably didn’t, but I agree with you, kellen, that it was still what I would call a queer family. Queerness in the family context extends beyond the sexual or gender identity of the parents to encompass anything that exceeds the rigid definition of a “conventional” cis-gender heterosexual household. That sounds like “My Two Dads” to me.

Now if only the series hadn’t ended with the men splitting up to pursue more conventional heterosexual relationships/families….

Deborah A Macey

First I want to say thank you to Emily for sponsoring this week and bringing all of the contributors together. I really appreciated all of the responses and enjoyed the Golden Girl discussion this week.

One of the most interesting things I found in my research comparing archetypes across series was that in Living Single the child archetype, Synclaire, was also from Minnesota. It is interesting how these series marked these places in very particular ways. Maybe there is something unique and exotic in simplistic and naive ordinariness of the people and the town. As a Midwesterner I am not sure how to make sense of the stupidity except to laugh. If only life were that simple!

Thanks again.

Thanks for bringing this up. Sophia’s agency is something we also wanted to address in our clip, but ultimately didn’t have space enough to do so. In our clip’s episode, Sophia defies Dorothy by leaving the house and going back to the daycare center to be with the residents even after she was “fired.” Sophia puts together a dance party for them, and in general has fun. Our post doesn’t fully account for Sophia’s quick-wittedness and ability, in some ways, to outsmart Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche, and that is something we did wish to address more.

Great, observation Thomas. We’ve also talked about Rose’s employment as an issue related to aging in the show. We recently watched “Job Hunting” from the first season of the series, when the grief center Rose is employed at closes. This episode presents a bit of an inconsistency in the series, as the episode ends with Rose gaining employment as a waitress, but in future episodes the center is open again and Rose works with them. In some ways, the series shied away from talking about the elderly in blue collar jobs that require manual labor, like kitchen service.

Your response brings up an important point that the mother-daughter dynamic between Dorothy and Sophia is not always reversed. The characters in The Golden Girls are complex, just in real life, and thus take on several roles given the situations they are in. For example, in the seventh episode of Season Seven, “Zborn Again,” Sophia takes on the role of mother when she is dissuading Dorothy from seeing Stan again.